Interview with Dr. Lívia Kacsukné Bruckner

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Dr. Lívia Kacsukné Bruckner was appointed Professor Emerita on 25 May, 2017. We asked her about her professional career on this occasion.

What did you study, and where?

In my case I think we can truly talk about a lifelong education. When I was 18 ordinary people did not use computers and they knew nothing about them, and now we live in an era when anyone can use a computer without knowing anything about them. In between there was a long way to go.

Dr. Lívia Kacsukné Bruckner

My first degree was a master level certificate in Mathematics from Eötvös Lorand University (Budapest) in 1976. Here I received a strong education in math and learned a bit about the theory of computing with almost zero practical experience. The university had a mainframe computer, but us, students, were not allowed to enter the computer room. We handed in our programmes on paper, then the operators punched them onto cards and loaded them into the computer. As a result, several days later we were given back a printed list usually full of error warnings. Then we corrected our programmes and started all over again. A semester was hardly enough to complete our home assignments.

Punched card

The next degree I earned was a Technical Doctorate from the Technical University of Budapest in 1986 which was followed by a Ph.D. in Information Sciences in 2005 from the University of Miskolc.

Where did you work before IBS?

After graduating in 1976, I started to work at a small new company called Hungarian Filmsetting Centre. It had nothing to do with movies, it was part of a big printing house preparing the texts on film sheets for printing machines using a complicated, punched tape based technology.

Punched tapes

I was hired to find out what their microcomputer could be used for in addition to running the specialized programme it was purchased with. This place became my first real IT school where I was the only pupil and there was no teacher at all. The computer had no display just a single stripe on the front panel displaying a single number and it was controlled by a few buttons. There was no operating system, just a few utility programs on paper tapes in a suitcase. Relying on the thin user manual I started to experiment by trial and error until I mastered the programming of this computer and could write useful programmes for the company.

Four years later I joined the Computer and Automation Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (SZTAKI) to work in the field of computer aided geometric design. Here, in a technologically advanced environment, I could learn from the top IT experts in Hungary, use the first Internet connection in the country and work together with British partners.

Demonstration at SZTAKI in 1984

My first longer visit to the UK took place in the academic year 1986-87 when I worked at the Polytechnic of Central London (now University of Westminster) in a research position. This was followed by another academic year in London in 1990-1991.

You were among the first professors who began working at IBS. How did you get to IBS?

Coming home in 1991 we found ourselves in the middle of the political changes and I heard about a new college in urgent need of an IT teacher for a BA programme franchised from the UK. I had positive experiences with the British education system through my children, so I popped in for an interview just out of curiosity. What I found there seemed to be the biggest challenge of my life, and I could not resist it. I left the world of science and joined IBS because I felt that here a new world was just about to be born and I wanted to be a part of it.

How do you remember these founding years? Could you tell a story to describe the atmosphere of a new educational institution in Hungary not long after the political transition?

The faculty in 1991

We started teaching with five teachers and one hundred students. Our director of studies, Ervin Gömbös proclaimed at the start that he could only promise us blood, sweat and tears, and this turned out to be indeed quite close to the truth. Among other things we struggled to learn how to fulfil the requirements of the British partner, Oxford Brookes University. It was especially hard to get used to their grading system. I remember telling the British colleagues at the fist exam committee meeting that I could not help it if my students were so good that they reached the 100% mark. Their answer was: “In that case the questions were not adequately formulated.” So we kept on learning the lessons we received and, of course, teaching our students to the best of our efforts.  Our first skills teacher, Piroska Komlósi helped us teachers a lot to cope with all the difficulties our new roles challenged us with and to establish the special culture of IBS. In those years IBS became more than just a demanding job for us; it was our life, our pride and joy.

Let me talk a bit about the environment and infrastructure in those early days too. We started in rented rooms in the later demolished office block of SZÁMALK near Kelenföld railway station, where the big glass windows flooded us with heat and the plastic classroom doors fell out of their frames when students opened them with slightly more gusto than they were intended for. We had ten offline PCs in the computer lab so students had to sit in pairs in front of them. Our moving to the freshly refurbished, spacious and well-equipped building on Tárogató street was a great joy for all of us. We felt at home in this building especially because our rector, István Tamás organized a guided tour for teachers and staff during the reconstruction, and asked for our opinions regarding the new arrangements.

During the early years of the school we also had to fight the prejudices of our environment since IBS was the first privately owned higher educational institution in Hungary. When I went to the Hungarian IT teachers’ conference in 1993  I could feel a sort of contempt from the university professors, one of them referring to IBS as “the corner shop of management training.” In turn, next time, in 1999, I could feel their respect for both IBS and myself. It turned out that many of them were teaching from the business information systems textbook written by me and my then colleague Tamás Kiss for our Hungarian students and published by the prestigious publishing house “Akadémiai Kiadó.”

What did you teach at IBS then and later?

I developed and also taught – for shorter or longer periods – almost all the IT related subjects we had at IBS over these 26 years ranging from the basic introductory subjects to advanced modules dealing with programming, system development, database management and e-business. I also taught other technology related subjects in the fields of production, operations management and logistics. Furthermore, I supervised several mathematics, statistics and logistics related subjects as head of department.

Approximately how many students did you teach?

There were hardly any students who graduated from the OBU courses without me teaching them at least one subject, and I also taught many students on the Buckingham course so I guess 3500 or more. I still remember many students from each cohort, and there were quite a few who grew very close to my heart. I am still in touch with some of them, receiving their greetings from around the world; not to mention those who are teaching with me at IBS even now.

Who are those colleagues whom  you have fond memories or who were great colleagues?

I had so many great colleagues over the years that the list would be too long for this blogpost. I am especially proud of those young colleagues who started to teach under my supervision and for whom the 1-3 years they spent at IBS was their first step towards their successful international careers. But I had and still have great colleagues at all the departments, management and staff positions whom I am very fond of. 

Graduation day in 2001

How did you feel when you got the title Professor Emerita on the Teachers’ Day gathering? Did you know it in advance?

It was an absolute surprise for me, and I was shocked for a moment. Am I really that old? I was frozen and couldn't say a word which is rather unusual in my case. Then I heard the long, warm applause and cheering of my colleagues and I started to feel a wave of joy and gratitude rising up within me. So I would like to end this interview by thanking all my colleagues and students, whom I had the privilege of working with or teaching, from the bottom of my heart for this title.

 Congratulations to Dr. Lívia Kacsuk for becoming Professor Emerita of our school!